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i want to go home
tonite, as bombs and airstrikes go off in gaza, i am thinking about home. who gets the privilege to decide where they live? historically, jewish people have been kicked out, worse than that. now, we don’t have the right to kick someone else out, too, worse than that. but you know that. writing this here, i know i am preaching to the choir. i am so sad this week thinking about the palestinian struggle, something i had to learn about as an adult. no one in my jewish communities growing up ever told me about palestinians, at least not in a compassionate complex way. no one in the US ever discussed the israeli/palestinian conflict, not really. i remembered tonight, while washing my dishes, after reply-guying to some israeli ppl i know from my jewish summer camp, how here in america some jewish people voted for trump only bc he supports israel. of course, biden supports israel, too. it’s all so twisted. anyway, i said i wanted to talk about home. that’s what this is all about, right? people just want to live in their homes, where they have been living for generations. sometimes i consider how if it weren’t for pogroms and anti-semitism, my home would be elsewhere. i would be european. i’m not bitter about this. i’m an assimilated american, it is what is is. but something about my history is dead to me. huge parts of my cultural heritage are invisible. i’ll never regain them. in a way, this is everyone’s american experience - memory loss. the memory loss of native americans and african americans is different than mine. their genocide is different from ours. i wrote on facebook in an angry comment thread, how do you explain it? how do you explain why you don’t want palestine to be free? there is no good explanation. it’s always something about what jewish people have gone through, the friggin oppression olympics. i know: lifting up the oppression of someone else does not threaten the validity my own life’s hardships. i would never compare my oppression to someone else’s, someone whose home is also their jail.
who gets the privilege to decide where they live? who gets the privilege to stay home, to not flee? these words, “stay home”, have a different meaning now during the pandemic. it’s like when my friend c told me last summer, how there will be two memories of this time: the people who got to stay home, and the people who had to keep going to work in person. working class people always have different memories of history. “stay home.” this week, the CDC relaxed guidelines for vaccinated people, with a small note at the end that immuno-compromised people will have to keep following the guidelines. sick people cannot thrive in this country. this week, the missouri governor decided to not expand medicaid, even though the state’s citizens voted yes in a democratic election. many people will not survive this ruling, many people haven’t been surviving in missouri for a long time. people will leave. they will need to find new homes where they can live.
one phrase i keep using is “lack of imagination of other peoples’ experiences.” this phrase relates to almost every problem i can think of.
as an emotion-flooded teen, i always listened to that one mountain goats song where he sang, “i want to go home … but i am home.” it was my favorite song! that line swirls around me, with no other lyrics as coherent or true. although now i look up those lyrics on google, and i remember them all clearly again. that feeling of being a teen, living at your parents’ house. the house is your home, and in my case, the only house i had ever lived in. it was validating to hear it put into words: i was home, but i wanted to go somewhere else. now, i am more accepting of this discomfort. i know that plenty of homes exist for me in the future. not everyone can feel this kind of freedom, of knowing that home is possible. these are words i’ve been using a lot lately in my writing, repeating like a mantra: “possible”, “future”, “exist.”
my current home is a neighborhood in chicago called humboldt park. although i used to go back to st. louis a lot to be with my family, i have lived here consistently in the same apartment for almost three years. in this home, i have experienced the worst news of my life, i have cried endlessly in this home, i have also celebrated myself here and loved my friends here and read so many books and written a lot. this home has given me a safe space to be alone. maybe what is so empowering about this space is that i chose to stay here even when my realities were crumbling around me. i wanted to “stay home” here. soon, i will leave this home in search of another in st. louis. after this summer, as simple as that, i will never enter these rooms again.
when i walk through my neighborhood, i am reminded of invisible histories of jewish community. on instagram, i post pictures sometimes of the old synagogues around here that are now churches or apartments. i wrote about this a bit in my thesis/manuscript, how jewish immigrants started moving to humboldt park neighborhood at the turn of the century. in the 1930s, the jewish population peaked at 30,000, 1/4 of the humboldt park population. by the 1950s, puerto ricans began to move into the neighborhood. also in the 1950s, most american cities experienced white flight with the creation of the suburbs. jews moved north. they don’t live here anymore. but their buildings are still here; i can see the carved stone jewish stars on the entrances of doorways, facing the park. why did they leave? the suburbs were enticing for jewish immigrants, desperate to assimilate and give their families better lives. there’s also fears of puerto rican neighbors based in racism and xenophobia. i think about home, and i think about a diaspora of jewish people who barely escaped their deaths. my friend j said this week regarding israel: there is no single jewish home or nation, “our home is wherever we are.” in humboldt park’s history, how come the jewish population didn’t want to have their home alongside their new brown neighbors? puerto ricans were fleeing from their home country, too. they created a second puerto rico, here on division street.
on the facade of one old synagogue (or another kind of jewish space? school?), there are painted colorful portraits of famous puerto rican leaders. the portraits look like the stained glass of saints watching over us. i’m not sure what this building is used for now, but it has one of those sterile hand sanitizer boxes stuck to the entrance where a mezzuzah should be. as i walk through the alley, i look up at the wooden frame on the back of the brick building inside a circular window nook. the wood criss-crosses into a star of david. on the edges of the shape, i notice the jagged spikes of old glass. blue and orange. now filled in with wood panels, this used to be a stained glass emblem of a jewish holy place. g-d’s home. i know it’s hard to see the shards of glass in the image i provided here, but you just have to trust me that they’re there.